Monday, July 02, 2007

Is the 2008 Presidential Election a Great Opportunity for "Progressives"?

In its latest editorial, Get In It to Win It, The Nation suggests that because of its "volatility" the 2008 election offers
perhaps the best opportunity in a generation to nominate a genuinely progressive candidate - a candidate who can win next November.
And that's precisely the crux of the matter: A "genuinely progressive candidate ... who can win." In the US of 2007, isn't this necessarily an oxymoron? Much of this of course depends on how you define "progressive." I have addressed this question in a previous post, Who is Progressive? For a more recent and more extensive discussion, see What does it mean to be "progressive"? at TPMCafe.

Just to underline the main point: Who is a "genuine progressive" and electable at the same time? For example, many believe that people like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader are genuine progressives; yet few think it very likely that they could ever get elected. In fact, some think that their campaigns are counterproductive, because they take precious resources and votes away from better-placed candidates.

Likewise, many progressives don't consider Hillary Clinton to be really progressive, and some doubt whether Obama really is, all the more since his platform is not very well defined yet. (For a series of probing questions concerning Obama, see David Sirota's post from today). Yet for the past thirty-some years, whoever raised the most money was eventually nominated to run. Depending on where you stand, this is either a huge problem for "progressives" or not a problem at all.

Since hardly anyone dares to call him-/herself liberal anymore, almost everybody on the left is a "progressive" now. The problem remains that this includes a whole spectrum of "progressives," ranging from rather conservative centrists to pretty hardcore leftists, with very different and ultimately irreconcilable agendas. Since strategy is primarily goal-driven, and since "progressive" goals diverge so significantly, there necessarily have to be painful trade-offs when it comes to uniting behind a candidate and an agenda. There is no easy way out of these strategic dilemmas.

The Nation editorial further opines:

The point is not to organize for a particular contender but rather to assure that whoever wins is accountable to our stances against the Iraq War and for restoration of civil liberties, a robust response to global warming and universal healthcare.

Yes, but this is one of the key questions: How can progressives effectively keep candidates accountable to a progressive agenda once they are in office? One would think that the fact that they were elected with their support would help. It would help even more if they were "one of them," so to speak. Many had hoped that this would be the case of Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, only to be rather disappointed once he assumed office. Could that happen with Obama on a national scale? How deep does his experience as a community organizer in Chicago reach, of which he claims that it was the best education he has ever received (including Harvard Law School). Or is this an irrelevant question?

Finally, The Nation appears to advocate for what we call a "movement-electoral strategy" in our survey (pdf) of progressive strategy, which includes Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America:

The progressive voice on these issues will gain traction only if MoveOn.org, Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America, as well as unions, environmental groups and other issue-focused organizations, rapidly expand into a cohesive movement. New technologies make it easier than ever to organize voter lists and to communicate with voters about the candidates and the evolving dynamics of the race. In partnership with innovative state-based organizations, MoveOn.org, unions and other national groups should prepare interventions throughout the process. Such interventions are essential.

Interestingly, Dan Berger also identifies the beginning of a "mass movement" from his experience at the first US Social Forum. Yet if you compare the agenda of the Forum with those of the leading "progressive" candidates, you can measure the distance that separates very different understandings of what it means to be "progressive."

Very appropriately, the motto of the Forum is "Another World is Possible. Another US is necessary." But how do make the necessary possible, when the leading candidate is Hillary Clinton? Though it is hard for some progressive to accept, politics, it seems, stubbornly if not necessarily, remains the art of the possible.

And please don't forget to be "realistic" when it comes to political strategy.

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